How Do You Identify a Bad Leader Without Breaking a Sweat?

To lead … is to measurably help others succeed.

Can you remember the last time you had to work with a terrible leader? He didn’t care too much about helping you succeed, did he? Do you have the ability to identify bad leaders quickly? That is an important skill. Why you say? To be able to move on as fast as possible.

A bad leader is identified by an ability to destroy the effectiveness of his team. He is that particularly bad manager who sucks the joy, life, energy and enthusiasm out of their organization. Instead of performing high quality work that adds value to the organization, he does uninspired mediocre work. Instead of providing great customer service that inspires customers to sing their praises, he does sloppy inattentive work that annoys their customers. These leaders are the arrogant, irritating, snarky people who make good people want to quit and move on, even though they like the company.

I have been in the military and business world for forty years and I often get asked what it takes to be a top line leader. My experience leads me to an ability to recognizing both good and bad leaders. Today we will focus on the traits of bad leadership. Here is a list of the traits of leaders I would avoid at all costs.

If you want to be a more effective leader, with greater influence, work to avoid these traits:


People want to follow an optimist, a person always looking to prioritize and solve problems. Most people want to stay away from negative vibes at all costs. And leaders who allow problems to fester into big issues.

Not able to make decisions

A terrible leader lacks the ability to assess core issues of situations and quickly decide on a course of action. They struggle with decisiveness.

Related: 14 Leadership Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

Lacking preparation

Most poor leaders are lazy and delegate 100% of the work. They are rarely prepared for anything and most often look hopeless.

Poor judge of character

Poor leaders avoid surrounding themselves with the talent that would make them look bad. They rarely if ever seek or listen to other people’s points of view.

No fearlessness

Fear is a crippling thing, especially to a terrible leader. It affects everything they do, most importantly their decision-making.

Avoid adversity

Poor leaders avoid controversy. Terrible leaders usually try and please the majority. They don’t stick their guns or follow their heart.

Not trustworthy

Trust is a key element most bad leaders have a difficult time building in their teams. It is not built on words, but through actions and evidence which is most often missing.

Use fights to reach consensus

Fights are emotional, often personal, disagreements which do not lead to consensus. They are frequently a tool for the terrible leader.

Avoid change

Bad leaders react to change rather than initiating change. They are always chasing after what they don’t understand. They rarely understand why change is necessary, and how it will make the situation better.


Communication is the glue that forms the bond between leaders and teams, and holds great teams together. Poor leaders don’t communicate with their teams and don’t know when to speak and when to remain silent.

No listening

Poor leaders don’t want to hear what you have to say and are awful listeners because they are usually too wrapped up in themselves.

Lacking beliefs

Weak leaders rarely know themselves, what they believe in, or where they are going.

Lack personality

It’s not how smart you are like poor leaders think. It is strong personal relationships and high levels of trust that are the foundation of effective leadership. Terrible leaders rarely grasp this aspect of effective leadership. They lack empathy, any interest in others, and or good, solid relationships.


Bad leaders never think anything is their fault and they never apologize because in their imaginary world they are never wrong.

Always telling what to do

Good leaders normally ask you to do something for them and only occasionally tell you what to do. Bad ones never ask, they always tell. And they demand that you to stop whatever you are doing to get it done for them regardless of what else you have to do.

Creates bad teamwork culture

Poor leaders create a culture of infighting and back biting sabotage of the team’s effort.

Remember this simple reminder … effective leadership skills, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it … it takes lots of consistent practice. You need to dive into the pool as soon as possible.

Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.